Much ambiguity about temperature level, responsibility, funding, and getting off fossil fuels in final draft

December 11, 2015

There is much ambiguity about temperature level, responsibility, funding, and getting off fossil fuels in the final draft (version 2, released late on 10 Dec).  Negotiation updates are available here, along with more recent drafts as they become available.

Thursday’s draft Paris agreement aims for ‘well below 2C’ warming instead of committing to 1.5 C.  This level of ambiguity is dangerous as a 2 degrees cap would require a target of 3.5% annual reduction in greenhouse gases and a 1.5 C target requires 6-7% plus starting to say no to fossil fuels now.  1.5 C only comes in, in a vague and non-committal fashion: “Pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C”

Words like historical responsibility are missing in the new draft.  This draft deal “denies the world justice,” said Adriano Campolina, ActionAid chief executive: “By including a clause for no future claim of compensation and liability, the US has ensured people suffering from the disastrous impacts of climate change will never be able to seek the justice owed to them.”  This contravenes addressing “ecological debt” and unjust using up of atmospheric space, as the Pope called for in Laudato Si’.

Current draft fails to give clear signal that the fossil fuel era is set to end. The chosen term “emissions neutrality in the second half of the century” is ambiguous and will require interpretation. The danger is that interpretations will differ radically and the window remains open for new fossil fuel investments, drawing attention away from the cleaner and cheaper options that meet the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable.  The new deal stressed developed countries “should” take the lead on greenhouse gas cuts, but also encouraged all countries to adopt tougher economy-wide emission cuts “over time”, in light of circumstances.

Weakened rights language in Paris climate draft sparks alarm (Reuters):  “Incredibly, references to human rights have been stripped from the body of this U.N. agreement on the very day that people around the world mark Human Rights Day,” said Friends of the Earth International climate justice coordinator Sara Shaw.  On Thursday morning, U.N. experts said human rights are already being violated by climate change impacts, including more extreme weather and rising seas, as well as solutions.  A report from the U.N. Environment Programme said the environmental impacts of climate change pose a threat to human rights, including the rights to health, food, water and adequate housing.  “The language in the preamble is merely aspirational. It doesn’t require (governments) to do anything,” said Alyssa Johl of the Center for International Environmental Law. “This means it’s not a priority issue for them.”  Joni Pegram, climate change policy advisor with the U.N. children’s agency Unicef UK, said combating climate change and helping communities adapt should be about ensuring the rights of children, particularly the poorest, and other vulnerable groups, including migrants, indigenous peoples and women.  “World leaders talk of securing a deal that will protect the planet for children and future generations, but what they are proposing suggests that these are nothing more than warm words,” she said.  CIDSE notes the absence of any reference to the need to protect food security in the current text.  Simply protecting production does not ensure food security or safeguard the right to sufficient food and rather leads to damaging increases in emissions.

Ownership of land and resources per Laudato Si’ are not addressed.  As CIDSE notes, land is treated in the text merely as a source to offset emissions and gives no consideration to people living on those lands and could therefore undermine people’s livelihoods and way of life. This gives big polluters a chance to grab lands to offset projects and displace indigenous communities, while reducing arable land and continuing to increasing emissions at home.  Land-grabbing, large companies’ claims to the resources of the earth, abuse of the earth, and the rights of the indigenous and the rights of all are not addressed.

The finance element of a text stipulates US$100 billion should be a “floor” of commitments from developed nations, with the need for other emerging economies to contribute “on a voluntary, complementary basis”.  This text represents progress on previous efforts as it was the most ambitious of the previous three options; however, many problems remain.  A definition of climate finance was never agreed – it has essentially been the contributor countries that have unilaterally decided what they think should count, and they have often chosen to count things that are not in the spirit of the 2009 promise at Copenhagen for the $100 billion, at least as developing countries understood that promise.  Then there is a lack of an independent system of categorisation and accounting of climate finance, and of tracking its delivery.  Some of the finance included – like loans, export credits and private sector contributions – has been fiercely contested. Linked to this, there is another debate over who should be classed as donors.  The World Resources Institute said:  “The OECD report was a comprehensive attempt to account for flows that might be considered towards meeting the commitment to mobilise $100 billion in climate finance by 2020; however, many methodological issues are still outstanding, since the raw data is based on donor self-reporting and there are differing opinions of what should count, and how to count it”.  Marcela Jaramillo, a Colombian finance analyst at London-based think-tank E3G said the report was a good start in trying to crack an issue that has bedevilled these talks: what on earth is climate finance and who gets to judge?  “India’s reaction to the OECD report underlines the need to engage on a discussion about climate finance flows that brings in together the view from providers and recipients of these funds”, she said.  As for the OECD, the Guardian reports that Simon Buckle, the OECD lead author on the report, said that the organisation had been fully transparent and that its estimate of the amount of finance delivered was the most robust so far.  “We welcome the OECD study but we do not recognise the numbers. There are double-counting issues,” said Chinese climate change envoy, Xie Zhenhua, at a press conference on the sidelines of COP21.   “The reality is that parties here were not part of pulling together. Double accounting cannot be accounted for,” said Izabella Teixeria, Brazilian environment minister.  “They should clearly say what they have provided, to whom and what is being counted.”  – See: Climate finance: A gaping wound that needs healing

100+ countries ranging from the US, EU-28 and Colombia to Santa Lucia and Norway are supporting a “taking stock” in 2018 or 2019 with updated climate plans due in 2020 or 2021.  An EU Commissioner said a new global deal to address climate change will be pointless unless it includes regular, five year reviews of national climate plans.  Leading climate economist Lord Stern warned any set of reviews will need to be linked to a long term goal. In line with a 2C warming threshold, emissions need to fall to zero by the end of the century.  “That is arithmetic – it’s not a political statement,” he said. “If we do [the transformation] badly, forget about 2C of warming, we’ll be heading to 3C or 4C.”  Meeting tougher climate goals by moving off coal and oil were no-brainers for emerging economies like China and India, he added, given the impacts using those fuels were having on human health.  “In China 4000 a day are killed by air pollution. 13 or the top 20 most polluted cities are in India. If it’s 4000 a day in China – how many in India? It’s enough to regard this as a deep deep problem,”1 he said.  “Moving from fossil fuels or capturing emissions would carry enormous benefits.”  See:  Pressure for regular reviews builds on India, China at Paris climate talks
– A brief history of the 1.5C target